Body size, race, and beauty in sport A preliminary study of the perspectives of a university’s female rugby and netball players

Main Article Content

Maria Lucia
Paul Davis
Ian Whyte


This study investigated the attitudes of female university rugby and netball players toward their bodies, specifically their perceptions of size, race, and beauty. The sports were chosen because of their respective masculine and feminine images, historically. The study used a qualitative design. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a sample of eight players from the women’s rugby and netball teams at a university in the north-east of England. Thematic analysis revealed three themes: inclusivity, discrimination, and the promotion of inclusiveness. Almost all participants reported negative body image, especially outside the sporting environment. However, most participants emphasised a positive outlook on their bodies in society and on the utilisation of their unique bodies to better serve their purposes in the sports they play. The study’s findings emphasise the need to foster inclusivity of body types and races in sporting environments and in the rest of society.

Article Details

How to Cite
Lucia, M., Davis, P., & Whyte, I. (2023). Body size, race, and beauty in sport: A preliminary study of the perspectives of a university’s female rugby and netball players. Scientific Journal of Sport and Performance, 3(1), 20–37.
Sport and Physical Activity Psychology
Author Biographies

Maria Lucia, University of Sunderland

Exercise, Sport and Rehabilitative Therapies. School of Nursing and Health Sciences.

Paul Davis, University of Sunderland

Exercise, Sport and Rehabilitative Therapies. School of Nursing and Health Sciences.


Beedie, P. and Craig, P. (eds) (2011). Sport Sociology. Active learning in sport. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.

Braun, V. and Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, (3)2, pp. 77-101. DOI:

Byrne, S. and McLean, N. (2002). Elite athletes: Effects of the pressure to be thin. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, (5)2, pp. 80-94. DOI:

Connell, R.W. (1987). Gender and power: Society, the person, and sexual politics. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press in association with B. Blackwell.

Craig, M.L. (2006). Race, beauty, and the tangled knot of a guilty pleasure. Feminist Theory, (7)2, pp. 159-177. DOI:

D'abundo, M. (2007). How "healthful" are aerobics classes? Exploring the health and wellness messages in aerobics classes for women. Health Care for Women International, (28)1, pp. 21-46. DOI:

Dadarrio, G. (1994). Chilly scenes of the 1992 Winter Games: The mass media and the marginalization of female athletes. Sociology of Sport Journal, 11, pp. 275-288. DOI:

Davis, P. and Weaving, C. (2022). COVID-19, lip gloss, and the threat to women's sport. In Fry, J.P. and Edgar, A. (eds) Philosophy, sport, and the pandemic. London: Routledge, pp. 218-233. DOI:

Devonport, T.J., Russell, K., Leflay, K. and Conway, J. (2019). Gendered performances and identity construction among UK female soccer players and netballers: A comparative study. Sport in Society, (22)7, pp. 1131-1147. DOI:

Fink, J. S. (2015). "Female athletes, women's sport, and the sport media commercial complex: Have we really "come a long way, baby?", Sport Management Review 18.3, pp. 331-342. DOI:

Fredrickson, B.L. and Roberts, T.A. (1997). Objectification Theory: Toward understanding women's lived experiences and mental health risks. Psychology of Women Quarterly, (21)2, pp. 173-206. DOI:

Godoy-Izquierdo, D. and D'ıaz, I. (2021). Inhabiting the body(ies) in female soccer players: The protective role of positive body image. Frontiers in Psychology, 12. DOI:

Greenwood, D. and Cin, S. (2012). Ethnicity and body consciousness: Black and white American women's negotiation of media ideals and others' approval. Psychology of Popular Media Culture, 1, pp. 220-235. DOI:

Grogan, S. (2021). Body image: Understanding body dissatisfaction in men, women, and children. Routledge. DOI:

Hardy, E. (2015). The female 'apologetic' behaviour within Canadian women's rugby: Athlete perceptions and media influences. Sport in Society, (18)2, pp. 155-167. DOI:

Hargreaves, J. (1994). Sporting females: critical issues in the history and sociology of women's sports. London: Routledge.

Harwood, C. G., Keegan, R. J., Smith, J. M., & Raine, A. S. (2015). A systematic review of the intrapersonal correlates of motivational climate perceptions in sport and physical activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 18, 9-25. DOI:

Howells, K. and Grogan, S. (2012). Body image and the female swimmer: muscularity but in moderation. Qualitative Research in Sport, Exercise and Health (4)1, pp. 98-116. DOI:

Joncheray, H. and Tlili, H. (2013). Are there still social barriers to women's rugby? Sport in Society, (16)6, pp. 772-788. DOI:

Jones, I. (2022). Research methods for sports studies. 4th edition. London: Routledge. DOI:

Kane, M.J. and Snyder, E.E. (1989). Sport typing: the social 'containment' of women in sport. Arena Review, (13)2, pp. 77-96.

Kerr, G., Berman, E. and Souza, M.J.D. (2006). Disordered Eating in Women's Gymnastics: Perspectives of Athletes, Coaches, Parents, and Judges. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, (18)1, pp. 28-43. DOI:

Kretchmar, R.S. (2015). Pluralistic internalism. Journal of the Philosophy of Sport, 42(1): 83-100. DOI:

Leong, N. (2018). Against women's sports. Washington University Law Review, (95)5, pp. 1249-1290.

Liechty, T., Sveinson, K., Willfong, K. and Evans, K. (2015). 'It doesn't matter how big or small you are. . . There's a position for you': Body image among female tackle football players. Leisure Sciences, (37)2, pp. 109-124. DOI:

Lock, R.A. (2010). The doping ban: Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbophobia. In Davis, P. and Weaving, C. (eds) Philosophical perspectives on gender in sport and physical activity. London: Routledge, pp. 112-128.

Lunde, C. and Gatarrio, K.H. (2017). Performance or appearance? Young female sport participants' body negotiations. Body Image, 21, pp. 81-89. DOI:

MacKinnon, C.A. (1987). Feminism unmodified: Discourses on life and law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. DOI:

Merriam, S.B. (2019). Qualitative research in practice examples for discussion and analysis. 2nd edition. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.

Molnar, G. and Kelly, J. (2013). Sport, exercise and social theory. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. DOI:

Mosewich, A.D., Vangool, A.B. and Kowalski, K.C. (2009). Exploring women track and field athletes' meanings of muscularity. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, (21)1, pp. 99-115. DOI:

Mucherah, W. and Frazier, A.D. (2013). How deep is skin-deep? The relationship between skin color satisfaction, estimation of body image, and self-esteem among women of African descent. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, (43)6, pp. 1177-1184. DOI:

Nauright, J. and Broomhall, J. (1994). A woman's game: the development of netball and a female sporting culture in New Zealand, 1906-70. The International Journal of the History of Sport, (11)3, pp. 387-407. DOI:

Pederson, P.M. (2002). Examining equity in newspaper photographs: A content analysis of the print media photographic coverage of interscholastic athletics. International Review for the Sociology of Sport, (37)3-4, pp. 303-318. DOI:

Prichard, I. and Tiggemann, M. (2005). Objectification in fitness centers: Self- objectification, body dissatisfaction, and disordered eating in aerobics instructors and aerobic participants. Sex Roles, (53)1-2, pp. 19-28. DOI:

Robinson, K. and Ferraro, F.R. (2004). The relationship between types of female athletic participation and female body type. The Journal of Psychology, (138)2, pp. 115-128. DOI:

Russell, K.M. (2002). Women's participation motivation in rugby, cricket and netball: body satisfaction and self-identity. PhD Thesis: Coventry University.

Sekot, A. (2009). Sociology of sport: Conceptual and topical issues. Physical Culture and Sport Studies and Research, 47, pp. 11-19. DOI:

Senne, J. A. (2016). Examination of gender equity and female participation in sport. The Sport Journal, 24 pp. 1-10. Retrieved from: [Accesed 10/14/2023].

Slater, A. and Tiggemann, M. (2011). Gender differences in adolescent sport participation, teasing, self-objectification and body image concerns. Journal of Adolescence, (34)3, pp. 455-463. DOI:

Tesch, R. (2013). Qualitative research: Analysis types and software tools. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. DOI:

Treagus, M. (2005). Playing like ladies: Basketball, netball and feminine restraint. The International Journal of the History of Sport, (22)1, pp. 88-105. DOI:

Trolan, E.J. (2013). The impact of the media on gender inequality within sport. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences. PSU-USM International Conference on Humanities and Social Sciences, 91, pp. 215-227. DOI:

Varnes, J.R., Stellefson, M.L., Janelle, C.M. and Dorman, S.M. (2013). A systematic review of studies comparing body image concerns among female college athletes and non-athletes, 1997-2012. Body Image, (10)4, pp. 421-432. DOI:

White, A. (2003). Women and sport in the UK. In Hartmann-Tews, I. and Pfister, G. (eds) Sport and women: social issues in international perspective. London: Routledge, pp. 35-52.

Willis, P. (1984). Women in sport in ideology. In Birrell, S. and Cole, C.L. (eds) Women, sport and culture. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, pp. 31-46.

Winter, V.R., Danforth, L.K., Landor, A. and Pevehouse-Pfeiffer, D. (2019). Toward an understanding of racial and ethnic diversity in body image among women. Social Work Research, (43)2, pp. 69-80. DOI:

Wolter, S. (2021). A longitudinal analysis of ESPNW: Almost 10 years of challenging hegemonic masculinity. Communication & Sport, 9(5), 718-741. DOI: